A 'stiff and nervous' West End debut for Madonna

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Madonna may have appeared uncharacteristically nervous as she made her West End stage debut last night but fortunately she was preaching to the converted.

After all the sound and fury which preceded her much-hyped appearance, the response to Mrs Ritchie's performance in Up For Grabs ranged from lukewarm to decidedly icy – and that was from her fans. The singer's performance was variously described as "awful" "stiff" and "forced"

"I thought she was absolutely awful but I still love her. I didn't come to see the play and she will never be Gwyneth Paltrow but her personality is larger than the play which is why I love her," explained Brune Singh, 29, from London.

Following her compatriots Matt Damon and her new "best friend", Paltrow, on to the London stage, Madonna took to the boards at the Wyndham's Theatre for the first preview of Up For Grabs, a satire based around a top art dealer's manipulation of friends and colleagues to get hold of a painting by Jackson Pollock. The play features a sex scene in which the rapacious art dealer sleeps with a woman buyer in front of her husband.

By 8pm, about 700 people had squeezed into the Wyndham's velvet seats in eager anticipation. Emerging a few hours later Vincento Perri, 27, said: "To be honest I'm the world's biggest Madonna fan and I didn't really like the way she acted. She seemed to hold herself really stiffly. She seemed slightly nervous but in all I thought she did quite a good job."

A slightly more understanding Susan Matt, 50, added: "She was reassured by the crowd's reaction and she got a standing ovation but she was definitely strengthened by supporting actors."

Adam Harvord, 26, a technician from London, said: "I didn't think it was the best performance but she got more convincing as she went along. It wasn't too difficult a role for her and she seemed to be playing herself, her character was ruthless quite witty and sharp."

The play's 10-week run is officially sold out but its publicists were still trying to sell it on the presence of the 42-year-old musician hours before the curtain went up. A Wyndham's spokeswoman said: "Obviously it would be very different if this was just an ordinary preview night – the star draw is Madonna, whether she likes it or not."

The growing suspicion was that Madonna, despite attracting the sort of crowd that any of her six fellow cast members would burn their Equity cards for, does not like the stage. Amid rumours of dark tactics, such as the stage being raised so fans would not be too close (denied by the theatre), there were fears about the depth of the lead actress's talent.

The first three nights of the preview were cancelled last week. The official reason given was "technical difficulties", but there were whispers that certain performances still needed to be polished.

The creators of Up For Grabs insist they have nothing to hide. One figure involved with the production said: "This is not about fulfilling a spoilt star's whim. All members of the cast have worked long and hard at this and I think the end result will surprise."

It remains a mystery why a performer universally acknowledged as being the best in the music industry would risk derision by transferring to the harsh arena of the London stage for £1,000 a week.

Matt Wolf, the London theatre critic of Hollywood's trade bible Variety, said: "It certainly isn't the money. It is the exoticism of London. If you make it in London, everyone back home is extremely impressed."